Asian shares mixed after post-quake bounce

Thursday, 24 March 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

HONG KONG, (AFP) - Asian stocks were mixed Wednesday as dealers cashed in on a post-quake bounce while Tokyo was hit by late selling after high levels of radiation were found in the capital’s tap water.

Tokyo’s Nikkei ended 1.65 percent, or 158.85 points, down at 9,449.47 after jumping more than seven percent over the previous two sessions as emergency crews battled to avoid a meltdown at the crippled Fukushima No.1 plant.

The index slumped 12 percent last week before Friday and Tuesday’s rebound. It was closed Monday for a public holiday.

Hong Kong was 0.42 percent lower in the afternoon after advancing over the past three trading days while Seoul edged down 1.48 points to 2,012.18.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.15 percent on Tuesday after leaping 1.50 percent on Monday.

However, hopes that the atomic plant crisis is close to being brought under control continued to support buying, with Sydney rising 0.19 percent, or 9.0 points, to 4,652.4 and Shanghai up 0.58 percent.

Taipei added 0.44 percent, or 37.04 points, to close at 8,545.08.

Emergency crews fighting to cool reactors at the troubled plant northeast of Tokyo have partially restored power to a control room, boosting hopes a nuclear meltdown will be avoided.

But a radiation food scare that sent ripples across the globe was compounded Wednesday afternoon when Tokyo officials said radioactive iodine exceeding the level considered safe for infants had been detected in the city’s water.

Japan had already ordered a halt to consumption and shipments of a range of farm products grown near the complex after health ministry tests found vastly elevated levels of iodine and caesium in them.

It is also testing seawater to measure the effects on marine life.

“This (the water contamination) is a huge setback, as we expected the impact from the nuclear radiation to be limited up to this point,” said Yumi Nishimura, deputy general manager at Daiwa Securities.

Tokyo Electric Power, which operates the stricken Fukushima plant, fell 4.46 percent to 1,049 yen.

However, regional oil firms benefited from troubles in Libya, where the United States, Britain and France were carrying out air strikes against Moamer Kadhafi in a bid to halt his crackdown on anti-government forces.

The crisis in the North African country has weighed on global investors who fear its crude exports will be held up for a long time, which has pushed up prices.

Charles Schwab & Co analysts said: “Continued progress by Japan to control a nuclear reactor on the brink of a meltdown is being offset by festering Middle East uncertainty.”The military action in Libya, as well as uprisings and protests across the oil-rich Middle East, has sent oil prices to two-year highs amid supply concerns.

But in afternoon trade crude eased slightly on profit-taking, with New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for May delivery, falling 26 cents to $104.71 per barrel and Brent North Sea crude for May down 15 cents at $115.55.

On currency markets the euro was sold by dealers nervously looking to Portugal, where lawmakers were set to vote on an austerity package aimed at saving the country’s fragile economy.

Markets fear that if the package, developed to meet stringent EU budgetary demands, is rejected Lisbon will have to seek a bailout, dealing a blow to the already flagging eurozone recovery.

The yen was at 114.61 against the euro in morning Asian trade from 115.11 late Tuesday in New York, while the European unit fell to $1.4171 from $1.4196.

The yen was at 80.87 against the dollar, from 80.92.

Japan and its G7 allies on Friday intervened jointly in currency markets for the first time in a decade after the yen surged to a post World War II high of 76.52 versus the greenback on the back of the quake-tsunami disaster.

Gold opened at $1,426.80-$1,427.80 an ounce in Hong Kong, down from Tuesday’s close of $1,429.00-$1,430.00.

In other markets:

-- Manila ended flat, edging up 1.37 points to 3,855.52.

SM Investments fell 0.2 percent to 515 pesos, DMCI Holdings was down 2.2 percent at 37.05 and Aboitiz Equity Ventures lost 0.1 percent to 40.80. Philippine Long Distance Telephone added 1.4 percent to 2,026.

-- Wellington closed up 0.31 percent, or 10.56 points, at 3,375.79.

Fletcher Building rose 0.8 percent to NZ$8.85, Contact Energy gained 0.5 percent to NZ$5.79 and Telecom was up 0.5 percent to NZ$2.00.